James Rush.

The philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita online

. (page 54 of 59)
Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 54 of 59)
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depending on the individual caprice of visionary personation, will
have a more invariable character, and therefore be more clearly
and generaly perceved. To me however, the cause is not aparent,
why the mystical 'soul' under the fiction of Identity, should be
brought into Stage- Personation, more than into any other art.
Why should not the Sculptor, Painter and Architect, when they
studiously, and choicely complete their designs, and then practicaly


execute them with propriety and taste j claim to have this myste-
rious light of esthetic inspiration ? We once heard of a French-
man, who, having made a certain Miniature Shoej ascribed his
suces soley to the influence of 'a moment of enthusiasm.' And
it has long been a by-word of the concentrative and transmuting
influence of a Sheffield work-shop, that a buton-maker, as a 'glar-
ing instance' of Ideniity, does in time become a very Buton. Nor
are such jocose notions less absurd, when aplied to an Actor or
when asumed by himself.

The Fine arts are figuratively represented as sisters ; and they
are a closely related family, far as the elegant Avork of their hands
is directed by a unity of the general principles of beauty in the
esthetic mind. When these principles have perceptibly and prac-
ticaly taken-on their separate sister-formsj any atempt, mariage-
like, to join two of them by a metaphysical rite, into one, Avould
defeat the design of varied departments in taste ; and be repug-
nant to the thot of a confederate-independence among themselves.
From a few elements of mater and motion, or perhaps from single
mater and its motion. Nature produces her countless diferences of
function and form. The same radical and governing principles of
fitnes and beauty in the arts, that create the delightful imagery of
the poet, direct the just vocal expresion of the actor. When the
principle embodies itself into perception, the unity of the principle
is divided, and pases, if I may so sjjeak, into the varied diferences
of its exemplified forms. The principle with the poet, is a train
of directive perceptions, conizable to others only by its efect in his
writen imagery and sign. The principle with the actor, is the
train of directive perception conizable to others only by the efect
in the pro])er audible sounds of his voice ; and strange as it may
seem, until further explained, we have a unity in the mental root
and stock of those principles, but cimnot have a direct resemblance
between the several branches of the arts, which those j)rinc'ij)les
produce. Somebody once made a doubtful metiiphor, in caling
Dancing, tlie ' poetry of motion.' It wants just as nuich, the clear
picturing of a true and consistent trope; and it is altogether out of
place, in serious discourse, to speak ol' the Poetry of the Stage.
It has had too, an influence on unthinking .Actors, and on Critics
who should think, to turn their atention from the asignable merits


of the art, to its vague and wandering mysticism ; and to en-
courage the Aveak-minded, to gosip with others, as well as to
enter into their own reveries, about the ' magical and dreamy in-
fluence of pasion.' If poetry j flimsy, spirit- woven, merely self-
inteligible poetry I meanj belongs to the Action of the Stage, then
with the reciprocity of a metaphor, we might sayj the Action of
the stage belongs to poetical soaring, even in its transcendental
flights ; which is absurd.

Let me ask one question of the dramatic Mystagogue, both as
critic and actor ; for if not of one notional school, they would soon
go their way from each other; whence does the poetj yes, emphati-
caly for this case, the Poetj who being a participant-' spirit' in
stage Identity, should in his own art be a bright example^ whence
does he draw this grandeur, pathos, and grace, which the Actor in
his cloud of idealism, has only at second hand, to express ? Ask
the Homers, the Virgils, the Shakspeare, the Milton, the Thom-
sons, the Popes, and the Cowpers, in their various powers ; and
from their unmystified delineation of nature and of life, their
analogies, all drawn at last, from that physical nature alone, not
poeticaly sung, but clearly spoken to the ear in vivid representa-
tion of the objects of every other sensej and learn how they have
become to us, in the recognized exactnes of their bright and ex-
alted pictures, the Baconian philosophers of fiction, and the great
'Secretaries' of nature and art; recording with iluminated faith-
fulnes, the history of existing, and of posible, but not of pre-
tending truths. They copied, each in his own hand, what was,
and what had been : and set down even what might be, with the
clearnes of a waking and a writen thot. Let then the infatuated
aspirant of Stage-Personation, who thinks we have been too i^ro-
saic, about his 'Genius of Identity,' learn under his dramatic
Mastersj from whose language he must draw the audible material
of his art, or it would only be the pantomimic ' spirit ' of his vocal
expresionj how they performed their high poetic part of grandeur,
pathos, and grace, thro all the breadth and depth of pasion : with-
out any real ' nightly visits of i\\Q. muse;' with no 'extacies' of the
Delphian Tripod; no 'stiring the waters of the soul' to a state of
poetic Identity ; but on a humble seat perhaps, and without en-
chantment, drawing their 'goodly thouts' in the truth and strength


of simplicity, from life and books, and things unwriten ; with tlie
jjrivilege of descriptively exalting the physical realities of nature
to perfectional degrees of the beautiful, and the sublime.


Here I finish the histoiy of the speaking voice : having therein
designed to record no anecdotal wonders ; no magnifying traditions
of how far Whitfield could be heard; no prodigies of earliest infant
speech ; no ultra case of a stamerer, who could not be even heard
at all ; no echo past counting; nor ventriloquism past belief. On
a subject worthy in itself of serious inquiry, I was reminded to
pay more respect to the Reader who might value this Work, than
contrivingly to entice him on to principles, by a distracting detail
of 'startling' facts; having endeavored to set before him an in-
structive story told by Nature ; whose wisdom being the broadest
principle and power of all generality, is, if it admits the term, a
single Wonder, Uncompared.

It has been my purpose in this Work to subject the voice to a
studious examination ; and by the simple but suficient direction of
the Ear, to unfold its suposed mysteries with philosophic precision.
How far this has been acomplishcd, the inteligent Reader must
determine, Avith that alowanee for minor crors, which the historian
of Nature has perhaps, in an arduous task like this, a right to
claim, and which the liberal and reflective critic, who may have
been told of the inscrutable intonations of speech, will not refuse.

Those to whom the subject of Elocution, in its higher meaning,
is new, will receve this history witliout prejudice; and even if
they may not have ocasion for its practical rules, will still admire
the beautiful economy of nature, in the ordination of speech. Those
who have spent a life of labor, by the dim and scatered light as yet
reflected from the art, and who are too })roud or ourelos to take-on
a new mind, witli the advancement ol' knowledge; will at letust
learn from this esay, the deficiencies of the old scheme of instruc-


tion, tho tliey may not admit the deficiencies are here supplied. If
the development now ofered, were only an adition to the artj per-
sons of the later class might discover traces of their former opinions,
and thereby have some preface to admiting it. But finding here,
the history of what may seem to be a ne^v and therefore a revolt-
ing creation in science, they may reject it altogether, because they
cannot recognize the definitions, divisions, rules, and ilustrations of
their familiar school-books on elocution.

HoM^ever Philosophy and Taste may admire the Wisdom and
Beauty in the Natural system of the voice, which we have en-
deavored to describej it is to be regarded as a curiosity only, if
it does not lead to some Practical aplication. I have therefore
atempted, on the unalterable foundation of our physiological his-
tory, to establish a method of directive precepts, and of elementary

If we infer from prevalent opinions, we must beleve, the distinct
methods of a good elocution are endles ; for every one with self-
satisfaction thinks he reads wellj yet all read diferently. There
is however, under a varied aplication of just principles, but one
method of reading-well ; and we are now enabled, from a knowl-
edge and nomenclature of the constituents of the voice, to furnish
from Nature herself, and not from the endles fashions of the igno-
rant tongue, the efective means of that only-method. AVithout
some system of generalized facts and principles in Elocution, drawn
from the pervading unity of Nature, there can be none of that
felowship which so esentialy contributes to the advancement of an
art. Yet even with an instructive ordination of certain vocal signs
to certain states of mindj conventional diferences, unrectified by
rule, tend to confound that ordination and weaken its authority.
If some uniform system of the voice be instituted, similarity of
knowledge will insure greater acuracy in the use of its signs ; for
intonations, like words, will hav^e more precision and force, when
not varied from their fixed and apropriate meaning.

In colecting and framing the precepts of Elocution, I have taken
into view the strength, the propriety, and the beauty of expression.
The system represents an inteligible, and dignified method of the
voice, under that form of severe but eficacious simplicity, which
is not at first aluring to him who is unacustomed to regard the


exalted purpose, and efect of an enduring taste. AVith the art of
reading thus established, its excelence must grow into sure and
ireversible favor, whenever it receves that studious atention, which
raises the pursuits of the wise above those of the vulgar. I might,
from anotlier art, relate the story of the great Painter, who with his
mind filed with anticipative reflections on the merits of llatfaelle,
was disapointed at his first sight of the walls of the Vatican, and
disconsolate after his last.

The florid style of elocution, formed by wider intervals than are
proper to the diatonic melody, is the result of a sway of exager-
ative pasion like that which prevails with tlie child and the savage.
The thotless excitability of noise-loving ignorance, which delights
in the florid intervals of speech, demands a perpetual change to
faults of a like vivid character ; and capricious alteration takes
the place of enduring improvement. The system of plain diatonic
melody, with the ocasional contrast of expresive intervals, for
which, as the Advocate of Nature, I would plead, has in the charm
of its simplicity, an impresive influence on the educated mind,
which the studious use of observation and reflection in an art,
must always insure.

If this ofered system of Elocution should, on the grounds of
propriety or taste, be objectionable, let another be formed by him
who is better qualified for the task. Only, let a consistent, tho even
a conventional, system be formed. And as in the other esthetic
arts, we can turn to an 'Apollo,' a 'Parthenon,' and a 'Trans-
figuration'; to the Rules of the Oratoria; the Landscape of
Whately, and of Price; the 'Institutes' of Quinetilian, and the
Precepts of Horace, and of Pope ; let Elocution be able hereafter,
not only to bring forward the name of a Roscius, a Garrick, a Sid-
dons, a Talma, and a Boothj let it at the same time lay-ui) in the
Cabinet of the arts, a history of the available ways and means
of their vocal superiority; thereby investing the art of speaking-
well, with that corporate ciipacity, by the preservative sucession
of which the practical influence of its highest mastei's shall never

A kindly felowship among the votiiries of the arts, and tlie bad
temper of disagreement, turn so entirely on a harmony in opinion,
that whoever has examined this subject would, for social sympathy


if not for truth and taste, prefer a factitious system, if well-ordered
and consistent with itself, as a substitute for the varying and con-
tradictory rules, constantly proposed by ever-changing authority,
in individual cases, of what may be caled comon or unenlightened

The Philologist, in the study and eolation of languages, esti-
mates those which have receved their clasified and concordant
method from the arbitrary institutions of gramar and prosody,
above those which arise with less conection or analogy, from the
wants and pasions of a barbarous people.

Where shall we find the natural prototype of that elegant and
precise science of Heraldry, which makes the enthusiast, over his
armorial ensigns, delight in the purely invented system of the
Escutcheon and its Charges, and read their artificial but methodic
disposition, by the brief and luminous rules of Blazonry ?

AVhat book of Botany can designate the fluted stem and sheath-
ing leaf of the free-handed floral volutej the symetric lotusj the
scroled acanthusj the varied cupj the indented leafing, with its
delicate traceryj which altogether constitute the beautiful and
endles combination of ornament, in the contrasted and harmonious
grouping of Greek and Roman Ideal or Esthetic Foliage ?

These three subjects are all the systematic yet conventional crea-
tions of art ; and it would seem, that objects of intelectual taste,
as well as of sensuous perception, are sometimes more satisfactory
when the latter are enjoyed under the impresive habit of acquired
apetite ; and the former thru artificial and therefore to the dog-
matic mind, less changeable arangements and rules : and we know
that what is caled acquired apetite, is always governed by the
influence of some habitual principles, however arbitrary these
principles may be.

Without a system founded either on Nature, or on general
Convention, I am at a loss to know by what authority criticism
in Elocution is to be directed. Its rules have too frequently been
drawn from the very instances which are the questionable subject
of investigation. Garrick is to be tried ; and by the Comon Law,
for there is no Statute here, the former case of Garrick is the rule
of critical justice. Hapy for an art, when such authority can be
cited ! But what is to be said when presumption pushes itself


into the front ranks of elocution, and thdtless friends undertake
to suport it? The fraud must go on, till presumption quarels,
as often hapens, with its own friends or with itself, and finaly
dissolves the spell of its fictitious character and merits.

The preceding history develops many principles of instruction,
and criticism, and makes some efort towards their aplication.
Pronunciation, pause, and stresful emphasis are the only points
of elocution which have been reduced to the precision of particu-
lars : and on these only have critics been able to show anything
like definite censure or aplause. By directing their inquiry to the
details of Intonation, they will learn how far emphasis depends
upon it: and when a perception of its universal influence in
speech is awakened by exact description, and nomenclature, they
will then first perceve how the comprehensive purposes of em-
phasis, in its fulest relation to thot and pasion, may be mared
by defects in the delicate schemes of melody, and intonated ex-

Read over a review of dramatic performance. It may have
words enough for its thoutsj and very good gramar. You cannot
however, avoid observing a strong disposition on the part of the
writer, to say something, when he has nothing to say : hence, with
some transcendental notion, and some uninteligible analogy to
explain it ; together with a parot- vocabulary of unmeaning terms,
generaly misaplied, and always mawkish to an instructed and
delicate taste, such as ' chastenes,' ' by-play,' ' undertone,' ' fresh-
nes,' 'harmony,' 'effect,' and 'keeping^/ the writer soon makes his
way to surer ground, in noting the number and dres of the
audience ; the comfort of the seats in the orchestra, with thanks
to the manager, for recent alterations in the rules of the housej
the habit of slaming doors, and the noise of iron-shod boots : the
whole acompanicd with copious extracts from some well-known
dramatic scenes, and perhaps a reprint of one of Cumberland's
criticisms. But how can I withhold an example of the ' fine
phrensy' of one of those ' briliant hits' of histrionic criticism?
'To hear ****,' said and seriously too, not an ilustrious, but a
madly ilustrating and modern English Poctj 'to hear **** act,
is like reading Shaksj)care by a flash of lightning.' A meteoric
leson on Elocution, gesture, and the countenance, worthy of the


transcendental teacher ; and quite satisfactory to those who thot
themselves thus brightly instructed.*

* To exemplify the uninteligible generalities of the greater part of his-
trionic criticism, under the indefinite verbiage of the old Elocution^ I select
the {blowing article from a Charleston newspaper of the seventh of February,
eighteen hundred and thirty-eight. It is a ' cloud-land ' analysis of the
maner of a foreign Stroling-Actor, Staring at that time, over the United
States^ whose real excelence on many points could not however, under the
old system, guard him against that transcendental fog of rapsody, which
destroys every perception not only of an identity with his enacted character,
but even of any likeness in the description to the character of the Actor him-
self. After stating that the Theater was crowded, which we do comprehend,
he goes on with what we do not :

' His reputation rests upon a charm that gathers strength with time — his
excelenoe is not particular, not resting upon starts, marvelous eckentricities,
miraculous shreds, that like diamonds in rubbish astonish us by mere contrast
with neighboring dulnes — his excelence is general, it interests and absorbs
you, not by the finish of a movement, the richnes of a smile, the complication
of a sneer or the preternatural power of a tone, but sweeps you on in the broad,
bright stream of the profoundly estimated and distinctly developed character.
You live in his personation — you feel your own blood sensibly coursing in the
veins of his Hamlet, your own soul rocking with his indecisive will, j'our own
brain gathering in the dim and awful musings that swell in his. It so dawns
upon you, ever casting a light before its aproach, that you receve it as the
realization of your own ideal, rather than start at it as an unhoped for won-
der. You are not reminded that you had never thot of such, or such a con-
ception before, and therefore you are never compeled to remember that the
scene is without, foreign to you, on the stage and not in your own soul. You
go with the personation, in it, a part of it, and not like parasites, bowing in
mock astonishment at the heels of the show. This may be a little mystical,
(0/ clouds and darkness, not a little,) but it is as near as we can arive to

a corect acount of the impresion which Mr. has made upon our own

minds. He is evidently a scholar, a man of thot, who has worked out his
ideal with all the careful labor and intense dreaming that it costs the sculptor
to perfect his. The consequence of this is, that he is aways the character,
always Hamlet — for instance, acting, feeling, imagining, sufering, like — no,
not like, for that denotes a comparison of two things where there is not only
resemblance but difference — it is rather Hamlet himself, Shakspeare's Ham-
let, bursting the cerements of his blackleter sleep and walking out from the
volume upon the stage. There is a freslines, a reality in it that would give
it all the charm of novelty on repetition. It could no more grow tame than
the eternal truth of the poefs own creation.'

Again, at the close we have something that we do comprehend.

' The play was witnesed with earnest interest. We have not time to make
a record of cheering, &c., but in the course of the evening Mr. was


The preceding Esay furnishes principles and definite terms, by
which the specific merits and defects of an actor, or a speaker may
be distinctly represented ; by wliich the indescribable mysteries of
speech, as they are caled, may be inteligibly told to other ages
than those that hear them ; by Avhicli arogance and imposture in
this art, may be wrested from their hold on the beter part of man-
kind, and their cornpting influence left undisturbed over that
great. majority, always ready to suport the small, and too often the
greater frauds of lifej and which, in its way, does receve a sort of
pleasure from the changing pictures of its credulity.

The same close and comprehensive observation which makes an
interpreter of nature, makes a Prophet in the arts. He can tell
us, that in the future history of elocution, as it now is with song,
the masters of its Practice must always be masters of the Science ;
that they will, with the confident aim of principles, adress them-
selves to the elect of inteligence and taste, by whom their merits
will be rated and their authority fixed. And if in acquiring fame
or fortune by their voice, they should receve asistance from this
essay, I shall be contented to think it may be even a humble
contribution to the means, by which the works of Esthetic Art
have in all ages, delighted the inteligent and educated portion of

Finally, I would recomcnd this analysis, and the practical in-
ference wliich may be drawn from it, to those who declare that
elocution cannot be tat; that the just and elegant adaptation of
the voice, to the states of mind, cannot be an act of self-per-
ception, and must therefore be the work of carles, cycles, and
thouglitlcs 'Genius' alone. Such persons look upon this suposed
peculiar-power of the mind, as a kind of sleiglit ; the ways and
means of which are unknown and imeasurable. But 'genius' as
it apears from its productions, is only an unusual aptitude lor that
broad, reflective, combining, and persevering observation which
percevcs and readily acomplishcs more than is done without it;
and is therefore in its purposes and uses, not altogether removed
beyond a submision to knowledge and rulej tho in its course of
instruction, 'genius' is oftenest the pupil of itself.

ciilod out, and amidst loud and long ajilausc, tendered his acknowledgments
to the House.'


Let those who are deluded by this vulgar notion of 'genius/
turn themselves from mystics, who wrap-up only to misrepresent
the simple agency of the mind, and who cannot define its high
productive power, which through their own delusive veil they do
not comprehend ; let them ask the great Sachems of Science, the
encompasing, and far-seeing Chiefs of Thot, and learn from the
real possesors of it, how much of its maner may be described.
They will tell us that 'genius,' if we must use this loose and oft-
perverted term, is in its broad and productive meaning always
earnest, sometimes enthusiastic, but never fanatical ; always char-
acterized by steady perseverance ; by the love of an object in its
means as well as its end ; by that unshaken self-confidence in its
unobtrusive powers, which converts the evil of discouragement
into the benefit of suces ; which cares not to be alone, and is too
much engrosed with its own truths, to be disturbed by the opinions
of others : with a disentangling purpose to see things as they might
be ; and the energetic means to execute them as they ought to be ;
soaring above that musty policy which, in its wary thrift of the
expedient, would with a world-serving quietude preserve them
always as they are : having the power to acomplish great and use-
ful works, only because it wastes no time on small and selfish ones;
and pasing a life of warfare in detecting the impostures and folies
of its own age, that the unenvious verdict of the next, like the
celebrated response by the Oracle of Delphi, may pronounce it the
chief in wisdom and in virtue.




■ iiiie 9 9«"»-

When the phenomena of Speech, Song, and Recitative, are
regarded independently of verbal distinctions, they display a nearer
resemblance than is discoverable by a general view of their efects

Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 54 of 59)